Mon, 09 Feb 2009

Location Services and Stuff

Chris added location stuff to his blog and blamed me. :) His solution was a little more technically involved than mine— he used an actual framework, where I just parse a feed into its constituent atoms (pun intended.)

(Disclaimer: as Chris argues, and I fully agree, I’m not worried about the privacy implications of the service— my stored location is only updated when I choose it to be, and I completely control the update frequency and geo-resolution of the updates)

I signed up for Yahoo’s Fire Eagle long ago, back before I even had an idea of what it could be good for. I liked the architectural purity of putting location data in one place and permitting apps to use it, as long as I could opt-in / opt-out at will. Rather than updating several “silos” with location data, Fire Eagle provides a location store and a defined API for apps to fetch it. Fire Eagle looked like it would be fun to play around with, but I didn’t do anything at all with it for a few months:

  1. I didn’t have a handy way to update my location,
  2. Even if I did go through the trouble of doing so, there weren’t any turnkey ways to get the data back out and do anything useful fun with it.

A few months ago, that changed. I signed up with Brightkite during their closed beta. Brightkite is a social network that lets users leave 140-character updates, photos, etc. (sound familiar?) but with one killer extra feature— every update has a geographical component. Optionally, you can just use it to “check in” at locations. When you do so, your Brightkite location gets updated, and if you “connect the dots” so does your Fire Eagle store. They’ve got a very nice mobile site and an even better iPhone app.

A guy named Richard Metzler wrote a mashup-enabler called Eaglefeed that talks to the Fire Eagle service and provides location data in several easy to digest forms: namely, Atom, JSON, and GIF. I julienne the Atom feed with the feed parser and plop the peelings into the left sidebar of the blog along with a PNG version of the map graphic. Like almost everything else in the sidebars, I display the location info statically, refreshing it once an hour— since I generate my blog pages dynamically, making the sidebars static keeps page load times reasonable.

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